My favorite line, in all of classic adventure cinema, comes early in the 1950 version of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Most other screen adaptations of the Edmond Rostand 19th century play leave it out, but maybe that’s because no one else could pull it off with the panache of the great José Ferrer back in 1950.
Cyrano (Ferrer) has already busted up a play which wasn’t up to his liking, fought a vigorous duel with a noble swell who takes umbrage in the notion that “Everybody’s a critic” and takes his best shot at making fun of de Bergerac’s nose.
And he’s been warned to help a political gadfly/poet and baker friend (Arthur Blake) about to be beset by “a hundred” goons hired by the royal authorities. Cyrano escorts the man home, and damned if the goons don’t set upon them at the front entrance to the bakery.
“I have been ROBBED,” Cyrano fumes, counting the armed brigands surrounding them. “There are no HUNDRED here.”
This movie is just gorgeous to look at — all deep shadows and brightly-lit swordfights. Cinematographer Franz Planer (“Roman Holiday,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”) ensured that if you’re ever channel surfing and stumble across it, as I often do, there’s no mistaking it for any other musketeer-era period piece of its day.
Dmitri Tiomkin serves up a romantic and swashbuckling score.
The swordfights (there is some doubling) are first rate, among the best of the era.
The story, the “ugly” romantic swordsman helping a lesser wit Christian (William Prince) properly woo Cyrano’s lovely cousin Roxanne (Mala Powers) hits its well-worn marks.
But it’s the rapier-sharp wit (sorry) that the play and film are famous for, and Ferrer’s peerless performance of those snobby sneers that make this classic timeless.
“I carry my adornments only on my soul, decked with deeds instead of ribbons. Manful in my good name, and crowned with the white plume of freedom.”
“Sir, I will not allow you to insult me in this manner.” “Really? In what manner would you prefer?”
“Watching other people making friends, everywhere, as a dog makes friends. I mark the manner of these canine courtesies and think, here comes, thank Heaven, another enemy!”
It all adds up to a classic, like “Robin Hood” is as notable for its look and fun as it is its action, one like “The Big Sleep,” whose real pleasures are in just wonderful lines wonderfully played.
And it’s so quick and quotable than when it slows down, shortly after the coached courtship begins, it’s like too much air has been let out of the balloon.
Cast: José Ferrer, Mala Powers, William Prince
Credits: Directed by Michael Gordon, script by Carl Foreman, based on the Brian Hooker translation/adaptation of the Edmond Rostand play.
Running time: 1:53